Holiday Harmony with a Side of Gratitude

(As seen in Queen of the Castle Magazine)

A recipe for togetherness

They’ve cooked for thousands of families over the years and somehow they still find energy and time for their own family each holiday. Claudia Draganowski and Joanne (Draganowski) Palzkill are the sisters behind Draganetti’s Ristorante, downloadTaverna Grill and Enchanted Inn. They own the restaurants with their brother; John and Joanne’s husband Rich. Their family history goes way back to their immigrant roots and when you sit down for a meal at Draganetti’s you can read about their parents, who risked everything to make a better life for their family. That led them to Wisconsin and led them to a life in the restaurant biz.

On a busy afternoon right before Draganetti’s opened, the ladies made time for a little wine and advice for those of us who dream about happy holiday dinners.

Claudia lit up when she talked about hosting the holiday parties. “I think we had like 23 or 24 people last time and then you know it goes off really well. We have a nice meal, we say the prayer, and remember everybody who passed on, always. Everybody’s brought into the meal like mom and dad and grandpa and all that stuff. And then we take the table, we completely get everything off, we bring out the desserts and then we do it all over again with coffee, Bailey’s, a little bit of wine, Joanne likes to make cappuccino, for whomever wants it so, its very cool.” Despite catering for many families and businesses for the holiday season, Joanne said they save the actual holiday for family so their staff and families can enjoy it. “Because otherwise we all don’t have a chance to be together without somebody being busy at a restaurant.”

Keep it simple

The ladies have found a way to make delicious, traditional food for their gatherings without making themselves crazy. They both recommend sticking to the basics so you can keep your sanity. “Keep it simple, keep it simple, keep it simple,” Claudia said. “You want to spend time at the table; you don’t want to spend time in kitchen, dripping in sweat. You know, be organized, there’s things you can do before then you just reheat it, you can even make your turkey dinner two weeks before. You gotta keep it simple. It’s so important for me to be at the table. I don’t want to miss any conversations.”

Joanne added, “For me it would be, don’t get caught up in sweating the small stuff and just really think about what’s the most important thing, if you have to take a short cut, do it. It doesn’t matter if the soup recipe you decide to undertake is going to take you six hours to prepare and when everybody sits down there is chaos– and I mean does it really make a difference? Don’t stress yourself out, in the end the most important thing is that you’re together,” She said the secret to less stress for some of their customers is to get dinner catered and put it in their own serving dishes! She said Claudia also perfected a way to make turkey dinner ahead of time for their own family and freeze it so she doesn’t have to lose sleep. (Secret how-to: slice the turkey, save out the skin, pour chicken broth over the slices and put the skin back over the meat to keep it moist. Cover and freeze until you need to reheat)

Joanne said some of her favorite times during this season are the unplanned gatherings. She says on some Sunday afternoons, she’ll realize she has enough meatballs in her freezer to feed more than her son and husband, so she’ll pick up the phone and invite friends. Pretty soon she’s got a full house. “You open a bottle of wine, throw out some cheese and crackers, those are the best times because they weren’t stressful, you didn’t have to worry about it.” She said you have to give yourself permission to be realistic about what you can do and let go of the rest. “The pressure to compete can be phenomenal,” she said. “Both Claudia and I have hosted parties when we were younger where we spent hours and hours researching and preparing to entertain family and friends. Sooner or later we came to realize nobody really cares as long as you’re with people you want to be spending time with and in most cases, simple is better, your guests want to visit with you as well and not see you running around like crazy.”

Key ingredients

Both sisters agree their mother was the hdownload (1)eart of tradition in their family tree and they learned some key ingredients for harmony early on. “Establish traditions, talk about how important respect is,” Joanne said. “Spend time with
your kids,” Claudia added. They both chimed in on communication being huge. Bring faith and gratitude to the table. Talk about traditions; talk about loved ones who are gone and how important they are to your family.

So how do they keep a happy family atmosphere around the holiday table year after year? “The foundation is respect and being grateful for what we have,” Joanne explained. “One thing mom taught us was that you never take anything for granted, you don’t know what the next day is going to bring.”